May 14, 2009
Wait 'Til Next Year
Trimming the Field
Last week, I began a three-part series with the intention of projecting the 64 universities that will land bids to the NCAA Tournament. The first step is always the easiest in a project like this, as we know 30 teams will gain entry by securing the automatic bid that the winner of each conference tournament receives. I also highlighted 24 teams from 10 different conferences that already have the resumes that will result in an at-large bid. This leaves between 10 and 20 spots available to the 41 teams I had listed as bubble at-large contenders. This week (and next), these schools will be at the heart of our discussion.
First, a quick review of the status of the "in" crowd, as highlighted last week:
Automatic bids only:
That's where we stood last week, but since then, I see five more teams that have earned their way onto the list. On the other side of the coin, by not taking care of business this past weekend, a group of eight schools are no longer in contention for an at-large bid. This breaks our bubble list down to 28 schools. First, we'll look at those whose status has become definitive after last weekend. All referenced RPI's come from the irreplaceable Boyd Nation at BoydsWorld.com.
Clemson was very close when last we spoke; despite some early season struggles, they have stayed in the top 20 in RPI all season long. All it took to push Clemson into the top ten in RPI (9) and guarantee them a spot in the regionals was a weekend series win over North Carolina-Wilmington, followed by a mid-week win over College of Charleston.
When the brackets are released, the regional hosts will be very anxious to make sure that they don't have to play Alabama. The Tide are 20-5 since April 1, and they swept Arkansas at home over the weekend. Not only has this team taken itself off of the bubble, they are now in the mix for a two-seed.
South Carolina didn't need much, but a series win over Tennessee was enough to get them over the hump and into the tournament. With Vanderbilt beating Georgia and Kentucky beating Auburn, the chances of the SEC being a nine-bid conference have never been better.
Louisville had a nice week, beating St. John's over the weekend, and formidable in-state rival Western Kentucky. Their RPI is guaranteed to finish in the top 45, and the committee will be looking to reward borderline northern teams.
Barring some unlikely events this weekend, the Big XII regular season will close with Missouri finishing in second place. In a conference of this size, second place is enough to get you into the tournament. Like Clemson, they disappointed in March and April, but after beating Kansas last weekend, they're in.
The Bubble Has Been Burst
The Big West will most assuredly get only three teams into the tournament, as UC Riverside and Long Beach State officially ruined their chances last weekend. Riverside lost at conference-worst UC Davis, while the Dirtbags were swept by UC Santa Barbara. Neither team is in the top 80 in RPI, and with so many schools sitting 30-50, they just can't build a convincing argument.
Staying on the West Coast, the Pac-10 also loses two teams from their bubble list, which now stands at three. Southern California, in their final season with Grant Green, Robert Stock, and Brad Boxberger, just couldn't afford to lose to Cal State Northridge last weekend-in fact, they probably needed a sweep. UCLA, one of the year's biggest disappointments, lost to California, and now have an RPI at 76.
Any hopes that Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference had of sending three teams to the tournament took a big hit last weekend. Houston would have seen a big RPI boost had they beaten East Carolina, but with a series loss instead, they now sit at 93. New Mexico also needed a weekend upset on the road against Stanford (another bubble team), but they did not get it. The MWC still has hopes of San Diego State and BYU gaining entry alongside Texas Christian, but I don't see both getting in.
Running through the final two, Duke needed to beat Virginia to have their tournament wishes come true, and they failed. Good season for a rising Blue Devils program (that values defense!), but not quite postseason worthy. Finally, Loyola Marymount couldn't afford to be swept in Tucson against Arizona, and now, they have just two weeks until their season ends.
The Remaining Bubble Teams
Ranked by RPI:
Thoughts on the Bubbles: